Mitch Perry, Author at Florida Politics - Page 4 of 311

Mitch Perry

Mitch Perry has been a reporter with Extensive Enterprises since November of 2014. Previously, he served as five years as the political editor of the alternative newsweekly Creative Loafing. He also was the assistant news director with WMNF 88.5 FM in Tampa from 2000-2009, and currently hosts MidPoint, a weekly talk show, on WMNF on Thursday afternoons. He began his reporting career at KPFA radio in Berkeley. He's a San Francisco native who has now lived in Tampa for 15 years and can be reached at mitch.perry@floridapolitics.com.

Kathy Castor visits USF College of Medicine, pledges to fight Donald Trump’s NIH funding cuts

Over five years, the University of South Florida received more than $260 million in federal funding from the National Institutes of Health; money which helped propel the Tampa campus as a leader in medical research.

But officials with the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine and Congresswoman Kathy Castor say that the innovative breakthroughs throughout the USF medical system would be seriously in peril if President Donald Trump gets his way in his recently unveiled budget and cuts funding to the NIH by 18 percent.

“I foresee a very challenging environment if the NIH budget is cut because young scientists and even scientists who are established will have a very hard time maintaining their labs,” said Dr. Samuel Wickline, the founding director of the USF Health Heart Institute, and Professor of Cardiovascular Sciences. “We could see a decrement instead of an increment who would be interested in coming here otherwise.”

Wickline was one of four doctors with the USF College of Medicine who conferred with Castor at the USF Health Byrd Alzheimer’s Institute in Tampa on Monday, informing her of the work they are doing. Wickline said that the Byrd Institute relies almost 100 percent on NIH funding,

Overall, NIH invested more than $32 billion annually in 2016 for medical research to benefit the American people.

“About 30 percent of the grant money that goes out is used for indirect expenses, which, as you know, means that money goes for something other than the research that’s being done,” Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told reporters last month, justifying the proposed 18 percent cut to NIH funding for the 2018 budget.

Both Republicans and Democrats have criticized the president’s proposal to cut NIH funding.

“You don’t pretend to balance the budget by cutting lifesaving biomedical research when the real cause of the federal debt is runaway entitlement spending,” said Tennessee Republican Senator Lamar Alexanderthe chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, immediately after the NIH proposed cuts were announced.

Castor says that Republicans and Democrats will work together to ensure the cuts don’t go through.

“We in the Congress intend to work in a bipartisan way to make sure that doesn’t happen, that the treatments and cures and the research stay on track that these young scientists have the promise of continuing their grant funding their research moving forward,” she said.

USF’s Morsani College of Medicine attracts students from around the country and the world who want to enroll there because of its reputation as a research university. said Hana Totary-Jain, Ph.D., an assistant Professor of Molecular Pharmacology and Physiology.

Totary-John came from Israel to USF to study.

NIH funding has to be steady,” Totary-Jain insisted, “So scientists, instead of worrying about new grants and getting new money, can really focus on innovation and on the research that we do and bringing in new breakthroughs in all these fields.”

Congress passed a bill late last year that gave the NIH an additional $4.8 billion over the next five years. That included $1.8 billion for former Vice President Joe Biden‘s cancer moonshot, another $1.5 billion when to President Obama‘s precision medicine initiative to develop targeted gene therapies and $1.5 billion to the Brain Initiative to develop Alzheimer’s treatments.

Standing back and watching the news conference was Dr. Stephen Liggett, the vice dean for research at the Morsani College of Medicine. He said it was crucial that Congress find a way to be consistent in its funding for NIH grants.

“You can’t start a project and then turn it off,” he said. “If you look at the graph of the NIH budget, if it were left alone by Congress and simply increased by three percent per year, starting from 1970 there’s a beautiful curve that puts it higher than we are now.”

Bob Buckhorn, Andrew Gillum among the 100 mayors calling on Congress to fix immigration system

Reacting to the Donald Trump administration’s hardline policy on immigration — which has included threats to withhold federal grants from jurisdictions that act as “sanctuaries” — more than 100 mayors from around the country signed onto a letter to Congress calling on it to revisit and pass comprehensive reform legislation.

Among those signing the letter are Tallahassee Mayor and 2018 Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum and Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn.

The letter calls on Congress to enact legislation that would strengthen the country’s borders while assuring that local and state law enforcement remains focused on community policing; establishes a streamlined visa process to bring in seasonal, agricultural, lesser-skilled and high skilled workers; provides a uniform system of employment verification and implements a framework that allows the undocumented to come out of the shadows.

“In the absence of federal immigration reform, mayors and their cities continue to seek strategies to protect the safety of all of their residents while ensuring that local law enforcement is focused on community policing,” reads the letter, dated Friday, April 7.

In his first week in office, President Trump signed an executive order aimed at creating more detention centers, added thousands of Border Patrol agents and promised to withhold federal funds from what are known as sanctuary cities — municipalities which do not comply with federal immigration laws.

Neither Tampa nor Tallahassee are officially considered “sanctuary cities,” but both Democratic mayors have criticized Trump for his stance on how local law enforcement should handle undocumented they come in contact with.

“We are not Customs; we are not I.C.E. We are not searching people who have chosen to live here and have not yet got citizenship,” Buckhorn said after the president’s executive order was declared. “That’s not something that we believe in, and not something that I support.”

Gillum also lashed out when informed about Trump’s executive order, saying it was “not a projection of strength, but a reflection of weakness” and calling it “inconsistent with our highest values.”

Florida sheriffs are also fighting back against claims by the Trump administration that they are not cooperating with Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Recently, the Department of Homeland Security published a list of Florida counties accused of refusing to detain undocumented people.

But the sheriffs say that ICE officers have sent requests for detainers to sheriffs and jails asking them to hold someone in custody after their local criminal cases are closed.

“While the illegal immigration debate is complex and emotional, I swore to follow the law, even when it’s inconvenient,” Pinellas County Bob Gualtieri wrote in an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times last week. “The federal government also must follow the law even when it’s inconvenient, and it is wrong for the federal government to ask sheriffs to ignore the U.S. Constitution and the law that we are sworn to uphold by illegally keeping people in our jails.”

The other Florida mayors who signed on to the letter are Joe Kilsheimer from Apopka; Derrick Henry from Daytona Beach; Joy Cooper from Hallandale Beach; William Capote from Palm Bay and Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis.

Their signatures on the letter come at the same time that there is a bill floating in the Florida Legislature this spring that would compel local goverments to support enforcement of federal immigration law or face stiff penalties.  The bill sponsored by Groveland Republican Representative Larry Metz (HB 697calls on state and local entities, as well as law enforcement agencies to comply with the enforcement of federal immigration law 90 days after the law goes into effect.

If they don’t comply, among the penalties include  the threat of automatic suspension and removal from office for elected state officials accused of violating sanctuary prohibition policy.

St. Petersburg officials make the case for Enterprise Florida

With less than a month to go for the Florida Legislature Regular Session, several major issues remain unresolved.

No issue is more entertaining — on a purely political basis — than the debate among Republicans on the viability of Enterprise Florida.

That’s the public-private partnership between Florida’s business and government leaders where recent records show has spent a lot more public than private money. And that’s a major reason Enterprise Florida has spent an entire year in the crosshairs of House Speaker Richard Corcoran, whose intense campaign has resulted in the Florida House voting to defund the organization.

But that’s not the case in the Senate.

The upper chamber’s current budget funds the organization to the tune of $85 million, with Gov. Rick Scott taking weekly road trips up and down the state for the past few months calling out House Republicans who voted against the measure. Much of the road trips include cheerleading sessions with both political and business elite in those communities.

J.P. DuBuque, the president of the Greater St. Petersburg Economic Development Corporation, admits that economic growth in the state won’t die out if Enterprise Florida isn’t retained. But he also believes taking away the business community’s biggest (and best) marketing arm and “unilaterally disarming” regarding tax incentives will negatively impact growth trajectory and the success overall of Florida communities.

“We’re competing against other locations. They may have deals where they might be considering locations in Cleveland or Dallas or Nashville or Atlanta. All of those states have lucrative incentive programs, and if we do not have something of our own to help close the deal, the total cost element which every business is going to look at, that pendulum moves away from Florida, and we don’t get the jobs,” he says.

In a conference call with FloridaPolitics.com Friday, DuBuque joined Bram Hechtkopf, CEO of St. Petersburg-based Kobie Marketing, a firm working with some of the biggest companies in the United States to build brand loyalty.

Working through the State’s Qualified Target Industry (QTI) program last year, Kobie qualified for 255 new hires, with an average salary of $80,000.

Under the QTI program, administered through the Department of Economic Opportunity and Enterprise Florida, companies can receive a $3,000 tax refund per new job created — if the salary is more than 115 percent of the county’s average annual wage.

After the House Rules and Policy Committee had passed a bill last month to kill Enterprise Florida, the libertarian-based Americans for Prosperity-Florida celebrated.

“Florida is the best state to raise a family and start a business, because of our outstanding recourses and infrastructure, not because of taxpayer handouts,” AFP-Florida representatives said in a statement. “The time to end these unfair handouts is now.”

AFP-Florida has been the most vocal group to call out all forms of what they dub “corporate welfare.” In so, they found an ideological partner in Corcoran, who at one point wanted the same fate for Visit Florida, the state’s tourist development arm.

Corcoran has since backed off that stance while continuing to push for a severe reduction in its budget.

DuBuque, as head of the EDC, bristles at the suggestion that EF simply gives out tax incentives willy-nilly.

“The incentives don’t make the deal,” he maintains. “The decision to consider a location for growth or relocation is driven first in most cases by availability and cost of labor, then you  have real estate considerations, you have quality-of-life considerations, so you have all of these considerations that your business are going to take.”

Hechtkopf emphasizes that Enterprise Florida has been a good corporate partner, helping attract and maintain talent in the Tampa Bay area. Although he was unable to confirm the nature of how the tax incentive program would work for Kobie Marketing, an official working with the firm later contacted FloridaPolitics to say that Kobie “has the potential of $1.7 million dollars in tax refunds from calendar years 2017 through 2023 as long as the 255 net-new employee are retained through the year 2023.”

Andrew Gillum tells college Democrats: ‘We don’t have to run from who we are’

Even though the 2018 election cycle has barely begun, there’s no question that Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum is quickly learning that his progressive stances are finding enthusiastic responses as he barnstorms the state.

“We can win elections in this state again by being Democrats!” Gillum told an enthusiastic group of Florida College Democrats in Tampay, where they were meeting for their spring convention.

“We don’t have to obfuscate. We don’t have to run from who we are. We can say exactly who it is we are and what we believe and why we’re good for the rest of Florida,” he said at the conclusion of his formal remarks to the crowd of approximately 120 students who gathered at the University Area Community Center.

Referring to previous wins at the ballot box on small class size, solar power and medical marijuana, Gillum asked the crowd rhetorically what was the disconnect that ultimately finds that “our candidates can’t bring it home?

“I would submit that it’s difficult to bring it home if it is difficult to tell the difference between the Republican nominee and the Democratic nominee,” he said, a clear shot at previous statewide centrist-oriented Democratic candidates like Patrick Murphy, Charlie Crist and Alex Sink.

Noting how the past two gubernatorial elections and last fall’s presidential race all were within 1.5 percentage points in the GOP’s favor, Gillum said the difference in most of those cases was just 70,000 votes in a state of 20 million.

“I believe we might have a chance, a shot at turning 100,000 more people believing like us out, and taking this state back for people. Not special interests, but for people.”

Gillum spent another ten minutes fielding some questions from the students. He made an emphasis about how he’s not afraid of taking on sacred “special interests,” referring to the Second Amendment Foundation and the group Florida Carry suing the Tallahassee City Commission for refusing to repeal ordinances that prevent shooting guns in a public park.

And with Syria back in the headlines, he reminded the audience that back in the fall of 2015 he made a point of welcoming refugees from that war torn country to his city, in exact contravention of what Governor Rick Scott was calling on at that time.

“We had a governor and a Legislature who said that Syrians were no longer welcome in the state of Florida. Right? Never mind that the governor has no say based on immigration policy on who can come in and out of the state of Florida,” he said. “So he took license, so I took license too. I said immigrants and refugees were welcome in Tallahassee.”

Saying he got “tons of blowback,” Gillum said the reason he stood up what “our values  matter when it’s hard,” relating that’s equally hard for immigrant communities in Florida right now.

He also spoke up for state workers, talking about how he’s been able to give three percent pay raises for municipal workers in Tallahassee since being mayor, and said he would like to be able to do slowly address the lack of any such pay increase for a decade (the governor has proposed merit bonuses this year)

“Our governor goes around bragging that we’re the cheapest state to run in all of America, we have the cheapest work force at the state level,” he said. “I don’t know about you, but if I’m governor of the third largest state, I want an efficient, and effective and highly talented and highly competent work force.”

Chris King, the only other officially declared Democrat in the 2018 gubernatorial race, was scheduled to address the group on Saturday night.

HD 66 hopeful Berny Jacques starts strong, raises nearly $30K in March

Berny Jacques raised $29,740 in March, the first month of fundraising after launching a 2018 bid for Pinellas County’s House District 66.

Contributors to the former Pinellas County Assistant State Attorney’s campaign include former Jeb Bush staffer Slater Bayliss, GOP fundraiser Brent Sembler, local Republican heavyweight Jim Holton, Tampa Chamber of Commerce Chair Mike Griffin and Fritz Brogan, former Executive Deputy Chief of Staff to Gov. Rick Scott.

Jacques also picked up an endorsement from another local Pinellas County official, Largo City Commissioner Jamie Robinson.

“I have had the opportunity to speak with Berny over the past couple of weeks regarding his candidacy,” Robinson said. “He has shown great concerns for the residents of the district. His honesty and willingness to listen to the people’s problems [are] commendable. I am looking forward to working together with him to help continue enhancing the quality of life for the citizens of Largo.”

Jacques said he was honored by the endorsement.

“Commissioner Robinson is someone who truly cares about the people of Largo,” he said. “My history with the City of Largo goes back to my time as a state prosecutor where I worked with the Largo Police Department to address crime in the city. To have a city leader like Commissioner Robinson on our team is truly humbling.”

Currently occupying the HD 66 seat is term-limited Republican Larry Ahern of Seminole.

Nick DiCeglie, who serves as chair of the Pinellas County Republican Executive Committee, is also considering a run for the seat next year. However, he has yet to officially file.

Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor want Congress consulted on military force in Syria

The two Tampa Bay-area Democratic members of Congress — Kathy Castor and Charlie Crist — say they support President Donald Trump‘s military action in Syria Thursday night. both say that the House of Representatives should immediately reconvene so that members can debate the use of military force there.

But both say the House of Representatives should reconvene immediately so members can debate the use of military force there.

That seems doubtful, perhaps, as the House is breaking Thursday for a two-week Easter recess.

“The Tomahawk missile strike on the Syrian air base was an important and targeted response to Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons,” Castor said. “Russia and Iran should be held accountable as well for their support of Assad and his war on the Syrian people.”

“The continued atrocities committed by Bashar al-Assad against innocent men, women, and most horrifyingly, children and infants, are an assault on humanity and must be stopped,” said Crist. “Last night’s targeted airstrikes were a proportional and appropriate response, making clear that these war crimes will not go unanswered.”

Both Democratic lawmakers say that the Constitution puts the responsibility to declare war with the Congress, and that the President should make his case before them if he is prepared to engage further in Syria.

‎”Congressional leaders, the Trump Administration and Obama Administration have been derelict in following the requirements of the Constitution and law for a formal Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF),” said Castor. “The military strike on Syria and ongoing war on ISIS should prod policymakers to return to Washington and adopt a new AUMF.”

“Congress must also do its part and return immediately from recess to debate an Authorization for Use of Military Force to determine a comprehensive strategy for the United States and our allies,” said Crist. “We need clear objectives to end this crisis to protect our troops and the Syrian people.”

Castor has previously criticized Barack Obama for not getting an Authorization for Use of Military Force in engaging in battle with the Islamic State, criticism that some other Democrats made as well, none more loudly than Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine.

Congressional Democrats as a whole seem to be parroting a consistent line Friday, praising Trump for the cruise missile attacks on a Syrian military base, but insisting he go before the Congress to get authorization before any further action.

Citing rising poll numbers, Florida congressional Dems urge Rick Scott to expand Medicaid

When Congressional Republicans last month attempted to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, they heard from several GOP governors, who warned them not to go ahead with a plan to cut more than $800 billion from Medicaid, saying it would have a deleterious effect on voters.

Now, with new polling indicating that Medicaid has never been more popular, Florida Congressional Democrats are finding the inspiration to ask Gov. Rick Scott to again consider expanding Medicaid.

“A number of states that had not previously expanded Medicaid are now considering expansion and we strongly urge you and the Florida Legislature to do so too,” begins the letter penned by Sen. Bill Nelson, and Congress members Charlie Crist, Kathy Castor, Ted Deutch, Alcee Hastings, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Lois Frankel, Fredericka Wilson, Al Lawson, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto.

The letter comes on the same that a new poll conducted by the University of Miami shows that two-thirds of Floridians, or 67 percent, say they favor Medicaid expansion.

Infamously, Scott said in 2013 that he initially supported expanding Medicaid in Florida, but then quickly reversed course and every year since has steadfastly maintained his opposition, despite the business community rallying behind such a move.

In 2015, the Florida Senate approved a hybrid version of Medicaid expansion; the House overwhelmingly rejected the proposal.

State officials said that plan would have covered as many as 650,000 residents.

Here’s the text of the letter sent to Scott:

Dear Governor Scott:

A number of states that had not previously expanded Medicaid are now considering expansion and we strongly urge you and the Florida Legislature to do so too. Thirty-one states and the District of Columbia already have expanded Medicaid to provide affordable health care to working families and students. Floridians should not be placed at a disadvantage compared to other states. Indeed, a survey published today by the University of Maryland’s Program for Public Consultation found that 67 percent of Floridians support moving forward with expansion to bring $66 billion in federal funding between the years of 2013-2022 to our state. Medicaid expansion will boost jobs and enable Florida to move to a more efficient health care delivery model. In fact, it is estimated that the state would have seen $8.9 billion in increased economic activity and more than 71,000 new jobs in 2016 alone. It not too late to chart a better course for the State of Florida.

Now that Speaker Ryan has declared, “[the Affordable Care Act] is the law of the land,” we should all be doing our part to expand coverage to the uninsured, improve the quality of health plans, and lower costs for everyone. Expanding eligibility to all Floridians with annual income below 138 percent of the federal poverty level–less than $30,000 per year for a family of three–is the fiscally-responsible thing to do not only for a huge number of Floridians, but also for consumers who use Healthcare.gov, for businesses who provide coverage to their employees, and for hospitals who are charged with providing care without regard to a patient’s coverage status. Insurance premiums for Americans who have private insurance are generally lower in states that have expanded Medicaid. Private insurance costs are higher in states that did not expand Medicaid because of costs of sick and uninsured are transferred to the private insurance pool according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Coverage is key, rather than costly and inefficient emergency room care and delayed treatment.

With years of Medicaid expansion already underway in other parts of the country, we have seen that other hard working Americans have benefited from improvements in health care quality and affordability through expansion. Medicaid expansion in Florida would provide over 800,000 of our fellow Floridians with access to primary care. Preventive services like screening for HIV, cancer, and heart disease will save lives, help keep our state’s residents healthier, and improve management of their chronic conditions. Providing access to Medicaid will also improve risk pools in the private market, a shift that has saved consumers in expansion states seven percent on their monthly premiums. Floridians deserve these benefits just like any other American.

Medicaid expansion also will reduce the unpaid medical bills owed to hospitals that put pressure on the state budget and our safety net hospitals funded with taxpayer dollars. Refusing to cover working Floridians through Medicaid expansion does not reduce our state’s health care costs, it just passes them on through rising premiums and tax hikes. With a third of our state’s resources already devoted to health care, the influx of $50 billion in federal funding would safeguard services from the draconian cuts currently under consideration by the state legislature. Medicaid expansion would help the state avoid the rising costs brought by Zika, the opioid crisis and mental health needs.

Throughout your time as the chief executive of our state, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has shown a willingness to work with you to find a path forward that will expand coverage to hard-working, able-bodied adults in our state. States with conservative governors around the nation have arrived at solutions that expanded Medicaid while upholding their conservative principles. If you miss this opportunity, you will chart a fiscally-irresponsible path that will cost our state billions, cost our state jobs and sacrifice the health and well-being of all Floridians.

Thankfully, Republicans in Congress abandoned their recent proposal to rip coverage away from millions of Americans including children, the disabled, and our neighbors with Alzheimer’s in skilled nursing. Like most Floridians, we realized that this was not an honest attempt at improving health care in America. Rather than continuing political games over the Affordable Care Act, we ask that you move to develop a plan for Medicaid expansion in our state to benefit the health, financial security, and well-being of all Floridians.

Sincerely,

###

 

Report: St. Pete, Tampa among 21 Florida cities with unhealthy air pollution in 2015

The Sunshine State’s air is dirtier than it should be, according to an environment report issued Thursday.

The study, called Our Health at Risk, reviewed EPA records of air pollution levels across the country, focusing on smog and soot — dangerous pollutants that come from burning dirty fuels like coal, oil and natural gas.

Among its key findings:

— People in the Tampa Bay area experienced 56 days with elevated smog pollution and 86 days with elevated soot pollution in 2015.

— St. Petersburg ranked 1st in the state for worst smog pollution in 2015, and 1st for soot.

Across Florida, 21 cities and metro areas had unhealthy levels of air pollution with an average of 17 dirty air days during 2015, including Miami, Tallahassee, and Gainesville.

The report comes as the Trump Administration is planning major cuts to environmental programs promulgated by the Obama administration, including a request to the EPA to rewrite the Clean Power Plan; a request to the Department of Interior to rewrite air pollution regulations for oil and gas drilling; a proposal to cut the EPA’s budget by 31 percent, and instructions to the TPA to roll back federal clean car standards.

“We can’t afford to roll back these key environmental protections,” said Congressman Charlie Crist. “More pollution and more climate change are direct threats to our community’s health, safety, energy independence, and economy.”

The report was written by Elizabeth Ridlington from the Frontier Group and Travis Madsen from the Environment America Research & Policy Center, and published by Environment Florida.

“There’s no safe level of exposure to smog and particulate pollution,” said Ridlington. “Elevated levels of air pollution — even levels the federal government says are safe for most people — hurt our health.”

“In the face of reckless and dangerous actions from the Trump Administration on clean air, Senators Nelson and Rubio must stand up for our health,” said Turner Lott with Environment Florida. “We urge our senators to defend clean air safeguards and clean car standards so that dirty air days can become a thing of the past.”

Proposal to create a Tampa Bay area transit agency passes House committee

A bill that would create a regional transit agency connecting four Tampa Bay-area counties passed in a Florida House Committee Thursday.

The legislation, sponsored in the House by Plant City Republican Dan Raulerson (HB 1243) would create a four-county agency consisting of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Pasco and Manatee Counties, and developed in advance of a much-anticipated Florida Department of Transportation transit study scheduled to be completed next year.

The agency would be given the direction to plan, implement and operate multimodal transit options throughout the region. It would coordinate plans among member counties and prioritize regionally-significant projects. And it designates TBARTA as the recipient of federal funds for any intercounty or major one-county project.

Clearwater GOP Senator Jack Latvala is sponsoring the Senate version (SB 1672)

Delivery drone bill unanamously passes House

Legislation that would allow so-called “delivery drones” to operate in Florida passed unanimously in the House Wednesday, 115-0.

The proposal, sponsored by Pace Republican Jayer Williamson (HB 601), focuses on ground drones, or “personal delivery devices.” Such a unit is defined as a “motorized device for use primarily on sidewalks and crosswalks at a maximum speed of 10 miles per hour, which weighs 50 pounds or less excluding cargo.”

These drones operate with electric engine tops out at 4 mph and ride exclusively on sidewalks and crosswalks. It would specialize in urban areas.

Companion legislation in the Senate is sponsored by St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes (SB 460). That bill has passed through two committees, with its next stop in the Rules Committee.

“We think that it would allow consumers choice and provide some really interesting delivery options,” Brandes says.

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